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A Fusil by any other name – French era guns

A Fusil by any other name – French era guns


Almost a year ago, I attended the Eastern Woodland Indian History Conference at Ft Pitt in PA. While there, I got into an interesting conversation with Alan Gutchess (Director of Ft. Pitt and overall smart guy) about the terms we use for French era guns. In a nutshell, he told me that he thinks that modern historians and reenactors have the terminology somewhat wrong. Basically he said that the guns called fusils de chasse (hunting guns) are actually very cheaply made fusils de traite (trade guns) and that many of what we are calling fusils de traite (under a typology “Type C/D) are actually fusils de chasse.

His arguments seemed to make a lot of sense, but I wanted to go back to documents and see for myself. A week of digging around and juggling ideas brought about the following arguments, lists, and thoughts:

Different “names/types” of non-military fusils seen on lists (not counting “carabines”
Fusil de maitre
Fusil commun
Fusil a liege
Fusil de St Etienne
Fusil de Tulle
Fusil de Tulle de chasse
Fusil de chasse
Fusil a fascont
Fusil a facon
Fusil a facon anglais
Fusil francais
Fusil de jaune
Fusil fin
Fusil demi fin
Fusil avec ancre
Fusil avec double-ancre
Gran fusil
Gros fusil
Beau fusil
Fusil de traite
Fusil Thiolere (named after Thiollier brothers from St. Etienne)

The Arguments
First… reenactors today have lumped french guns into the following “fusil de chasse” (so called), Type C, and Type D. Essentially there are no others “types” available or used in spite of a ton of variety in records. Type C and D is given (in Hamilton’s typography) to the historic labels “de traite” and “fin.”
IN REALITY… looking at artifacts and especially lists, there are TONS of variety in what is listed and what they are called. Also, whether fusil de chasse, fusil fin, fusil demi-fin, fusil de ancre, fusil de Tulle, fusil de St. Etienne, fusil de Liege, fusil a fascont, beau fusil, gran fusil, etc.; the prices within these categories and across them are all over the place (showing a wide variety within the categories). There are also exceptions noted in some records of damascened barrels, silver sites and escutcheons, gilding and a variety of other individualized items. All of our classifications need to be thrown out the window.
In the Montreal Merchant Record Project (MMRP) they translate “fusil de chasse” not as hunting gun but as a fowler. I think this is a much better translation than the literal. When thinking of a fowling gun, what style do you picture? Not the “fusil de chasse” as we currently call it, but rather the nicer C and D. Also, Tulle and St. Etienne were making all versions of guns. Interestingly there are a few different quotes saying how the Indians prefer the fusil de chasse de Tulle and want no others. Thinking of this; what parts show up most often at native sites?
On list of goods I am looking at, most all of these are going to native in trade, for war party gifts, or fur trade workers. Amongst these….we see ALL types. Although fusil de traite appears in some documents, it didn’t in the lists of goods given in the aforementioned lists… technically they were all TRADE (traite) guns. This term is a very generic term covering many others. I would also suggest that fin, demi-fin, fascont, etc. are all subjective (to degrees) and likely not indicating a specific style but rather a level of “fanciness” or quality.
Additionally, there are brass mounted fusil de chasse references (a few hundred of them made and mentioned in the early 1700s) with no arch. evidence of brass parts in the “fusil de chasse” (our current idea of what a fusil de chase) style.
Pouchot mentions officers being armed with fusils de chasse from the Kings store. Why would an officer chose a plain, clunky, iron mounted gun when there were better, nicer guns available? British officers often had nice fowlers (civilian hunting guns), wouldn’t French officers do similarly.
R. Bouchard made averages of prices of various guns listed in inventories:

A trade gun from Ste Étienne was valued at 10 livres
” ” ” Liège ” ” 12 ”
” ” ” ” Holland ” ” 12 ”
fine trade gun ” 20 ”
very fine trade gun 30 ”

” carabines de traite ” only 8 livres .
(a ” carabine ” was probably a smooth bore musquetoon
and not a rifle)

Finally , a trade pistol was valued on average 4 livres.

The average value of a Tulle hunting gun was about 17 livres .
only 10.5 % cheaper than a ” fine trade gun ” .
Tulle fusils de chasse are valued at more than fusils de traite (other than those of the “fin” designation); but based on construction, quality, and materials, the “fusil de chasse” (current terminology) is poorer than the “C”s and “D”s.
The Gutchess Analogy
Many fusils de chasse were mentioned as being from Tulle and some of the currently labeled “fusils de chasse” have “TULLE” stamped on them. People then assume (perhaps erroneously) that they are the fusils de chasse in the records. This would be like an archaeologist 300 years from now reading an advertisement for a Toyota truck and then unearthing a Toyota Camry. The Camry has the name Toyota on it… AH HA!!! … this is what a “truck” is, and from this point on, this is what is labeled as a truck. Of course, it is not.
-The gun currently called a “fusil de chasse” is not but rather is a simple “fusil” or “fusil commun” (common gun) that is seen on lists and is a very cheap trade gun. It is in reality the cheapest made and simplest gun we find and fits this type of “trade gun.” This may also be seen in lists as cheap “fusils de traite.”
-Types “C” and “D” that are commonly seen archaeologically are more likely what was historically called a fusil de chasse (appropriately translated in English as a fowler). This fits descriptions (especially since brass mounted “fusils de chasse” do not seem to exist but these come in brass and iron as mentioned historically), and they are more appropriately what we would call a fowler. These were also used as trade guns and MAY show up in some lists as fusil de traite, fusil fin, etc. but at a higher price.
Additionally, there are other variations that we rarely talk about that would fit into the other categories/types mentioned, including the fusil fin.

One Response to “A Fusil by any other name – French era guns”

  1. Very interesting, thank you. Much appreciated.
    Regards, Keith.

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